Friday, December 4, 2009

Crab Cakes With A Side Of Guilt


The commercial crabbing season started this week in Rain City. I bought my first (pre-cooked, 'cause that's what was first offered) crab the day after opening day. The docks have been completely transformed from pretty empty parking lots with full boat-slips to jam-packed parking lots. Boats come in and out all day. It's a hive of activity and you can buy live or cooked crabs right from the boats or from businesses on the docks. It's pretty crazy and can apparently last through January in a good crabbing year. Last year was not a good year and people have told us that there's a four or five year cycle of good and bad crab years.

My crab weighed just over two pounds and I managed to get 9.3 ounces of meat out of it. I need to ask around to see if my crab-picking skills are up to par. I was proud of the jumbo-lump quality of my picked meat. The shell and tiny claw-ends are now in the freezer to make stock at a later date, 'cause when the ocean offers up this succulent a treat, I feel like I should make the most of it.

We enjoyed our first Dungeness crab in the form of crab cakes with slaw on the side. The cakes were very, very basic. A little mayo as a binder and a quick dredge in seasoned flour. That's it. Since we had a lot of perfect crab, I didn't want to hide it at all.

Now, for the side of guilt. Those of you who are happy omnivores and don't want to change the "happy" part of that equation should feel free to skip my musings on omnivory.

I've recently been rethinking my eating habits. For the last many years (following a long period of strict vegetarianism), I have eaten fish and seafood occasionally. "Occasionally" has varied, from a few meals a week to a meal or two a month, depending largely on availability of high-quality locally fished choices. In Isolationville, we ate a fair bit of salmon and halibut because they were locally abundant and grocery stores weren't. In Desolationville and Desertville, we lived in a desert. Not a whole lot of local fisheries action. We didn't eat much seafood (Daring Cooks challenges aside!).

Now, here we are living once again near the ocean. We are a mile from the beach and only three miles from an active commercial fishery harbor. The fishery here focuses on tuna, salmon (both a river-based season and a fall ocean season), and crab. Husband loves crab. Husband could live on crab, I think. I love a good crab cake, but not quite in the same way as Husband.

So what do we do? There have been two opinion pieces in the NY Times in the past few months about the ethics of meat-eating. The most recent was written by an ethical vegan and spoke more to animals raised for food rather than wild-caught (or hunted) animals. In October, there was a powerful exploration of one person's journey to vegetarianism. It explored a lot of the same reasons I became vegetarian. Fiction, also, has conspired to make me think about my choice to eat fish. I recently finished reading Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood, which hammers home a strong vegetarian message from a dystopian future.

My journey to vegetarianism started because I was horrified by the idea of raising animals to eat them (being a friend to all animals, as Husband calls me), and particularly horrified by the way animals are raised today (or in the mid-80s, when I stopped eating meat). Over the next several years, my vegetarianism was solidified not out of ethical concerns, but out of environmental ones. The higher we eat on the food chain, the more energy is required to produce a pound of food. Environmentally speaking, eating meat is very, very expensive. And in this century, the environment is a major ethical issue. Being vegetarian (or vegan) is one of the most powerful things an individual can do to slow down climate change.

But where do wild animal foods come into this equation? They are still higher on the food chain. There aren't the same ethical issues surrounding the way they lived, but there are still the ethical issues surrounding killing another animal to eat.

I've written before about my love of foraging, which is just another word for the "gathering" part of hunting and gathering. Hunting and gathering produced the diet that our hominid ancestors ate for at least a couple million years (allowing for scavenging at the very beginning of the lineage). Humans are just one among many omnivores and, of course, pure carnivores. We evolved as predators and predators are a necessary part of any ecosystem. Is there any reason why we shouldn't play the predator role ever? Is there a moral obstacle to my participation in the "hunting" part of hunting and gathering?

I don't really know. I've been leaning away from eating fish recently, but it seems foolish when there's an abundant, sustainable fishery minutes from my house. Dungeness crabs are considered a best choice option by Monterey Bay Seafood Watch. Is it better to get protein from a local crustacean or a non-local soybean-processed-into-tofu?

For now, the long-term answer isn't clear to me, but I think this season's crabs will be part of my diet. Next year? I don't know.